When is it safe to let kitty go outside? Basically, never. As cities spread, wildlife loses its own habitat and adapts to ours. Coyotes, raccoons, possum, hawks, and owls can all present a danger to pets left unsupervised outdoors. If your cat is adamant about getting some fresh air and seeing what’s going on in the yard, there are ways to keep him and the backyard wildlife safe from each other.
For apartment living, arrange a window seat so kitty has a good view of the neighborhood. Open the window a couple of inches so he can sniff but not claw an escape hole in the screen. A pot of cat grass (available in pet supply stores) will give him a snack to chew on while bird watching. Fifteen minutes of playtime, morning and night will add some exercise and let him use his instinctive prey drive in a harmless (except to his toys) way.
Some cats love a screened in porch. There’s plenty of fresh air, lots to see and do.
A small flat of grass can be chewed on and a tiny sandbox works as a digging spot—or litter! So that you don’t have to continually go to open the door for a cat that can’t decide in or out, a cat flap in the door lets him decide. Cats who are bored and indulge in bad behaviors like chewing or shredding, often stop once they can have a little control over their own environment. A cat flap also lets kitty make a quick retreat back into the house if a stray dog wanders into the yard, a storm comes up or there’s an unpleasant change in temperature.
A “catio” or “habicat” is another option, especially for the handyman who can build his own. A catio is essentially a small screened in porch, attached to the house and just for the cats. A habicat is generally larger and might have additional features like potted plants (check the poisonous plants list at: Poisonous Plants ) or a tree limb that’s anchored to the frame so kitty can claw and climb. A birdfeeder hung nearby works like kitty television.
If you’re not ready for something so large, check pet supply sites for pop-up tents that zip shut. They’re made just for pets, in a variety of sizes. Kitty can see out but not escape and it’s portable so she can stay nearby as you garden or read in the shade. Even if he’s in an enclosure, like the pop-up tent, don’t leave him alone in the yard. In the catio, check on him frequently. Be sure to close the cat flaps at night when predators are on the prowl.
Try walking your cat. Some cats will walk on a leash but kids on skateboards, stray dogs, and loud traffic can all scare her. Try an enclosed mesh stroller, made for pets to ride in comfort. Even if startled, kitty is snug inside and safe.
If you feed kitty while he’s out in his habicat, be sure to pick up all food when you go back into the house. Not only will leftover food attract bugs like ants and roaches but raccoons and possums love dry cat food. Be sure kitty has access to clean water at all times.
With careful thought and planning, cats can enjoy the outdoors too—and like humans, it improves their health, attitude and disposition when they do. Of course, you don't have to let your cat go outside. Here are some ideas on making the inside of your home bigger and more entertaining for your cat.
Paris Permenter and John Bigley, bloggers at www.cattipper.com an online magazine for cat lovers, built a “catio” for daytime use by their felines.
Jane Dorsey, volunteer coordinator for the Cat Care Society, sees the success of “habicats” at the shelter and at home.